Four years ago, John Paul’s life completely changed when the unexpected happened, forcing him to look at the world in a new light—one that would make his parents proud.
By Monique Lombardo
“As Ghandi used to say ‘the weak can never forgive, forgiveness is an attribute of the strong,’ and it’s something I try to live by every day.” Photo: Monique Lombardo
+For the purpose of this article, last names were left out to respect the privacy of the family.
The death of any family member is difficult to come to terms with, but how would you cope if you came home to the news that your whole family was murdered? This was the scene that confronted John Paul as he returned from a holiday with his fiancé. “It was like, when my whole world fell apart.”
John Paul sits rigidly in his chair, fingers tapping on the table, forcing the beer inside his freshly opened Corona to jolt. “When I got back into Sydney I was taken in by the Federal Police where they informed me that my step-brother had murdered my family.”
On 29th July 2012, police were called to a house in St Johns Park in Sydney’s South West. The call to triple zero came from a distressed Carlos, John Paul’s half-brother, who was found within the unit as police arrived at the scene. Holding a 20cm knife covered in blood, Carlos was tasered at the scene and taken to Liverpool Hospital for what seemed to be self-inflicted stab wounds.
As the emergency unit moved swiftly into the home, they were struck by the “horrific crime scene…there was blood everywhere.” Investigators described what was before them as “a scene from a horror movie,” as John Paul’s mother, Olga, and her husband, Pablo, were found dead in the master bedroom, in their pyjamas. Lying on his mother’s chest was one of the family’s pet Chihuahuas, also dead. Olga’s son, Raul, was found slumped against the cupboard, with the second dog discovered dead at the back door.
All were stabbed to death.
“A better future for us”
John Paul and his family were raised in Argentina up until he reached the age of four. During the late 1970s, Argentina was overrun by a dictatorial military regime, under which citizens were tortured and murdered. Many disappeared in the middle of the night, these were known as Los Desaparecidos. Curious, I asked what it was like living under such conditions; he flung two fingers to my head, pressing hard against my skull and forcing my head to look at the carpet. “The carpet is green! What colour is it?”. I replied, “It’s brown.” His fingers pressed harder, mimicking a gun. “What colour is it?”, he screamed. “It’s green, it’s green!”, I pleaded. He released me from his grip. The carpet was brown, but that didn’t matter, the dictatorship told you what to think. If you went against their orders, you were dead. We were left standing in his barren dining room, speechless.
In an effort to escape the ‘Dirty War’, John Paul’s father, Pablo, like many before him, migrated to Australia in search of a brighter future. After being sponsored by his uncle, John Paul, his brother Hugo and half-brothers Carlo and Ralph, along with his parents, were sent to a hostel in Western Sydney in 1981. Now known as the Villawood Detention Centre, it would be the place that they would call their first home in Australia. After three months, they were free to finally live the life they had always dreamed about and integrate into Australian society.
“Football is a lot more than just life or death”
Growing up in a Hispanic community in Fairfield, football and parillas (South American barbeques), became they keystone of their life. For as long as he can remember, John Paul has always been a soccer player: “it’s in your DNA, it’s in your blood and it’s a part of the culture.” But his love for football came from his earliest memory of the Di de Reyes—The Feast of Epiphany. In Argentina, the Feast of Epiphany is a ritual where the Three Magi or the Three Wise Men give gifts to children. It was on this feast day, at the age of three, that he received his first pair of football boots.
Football became John Paul’s life and playing Super League for Dulwich Hill became his greatest achievement—until he succumbed to an injury that would force him to stop playing. In a game against the Hurstville Minotaurs, he copped a hit that damaged his meniscus ligament. At the age of 22, John Paul had to throw away his semi-professional career and let the injury heal without surgery. For the two years that he was out of the game, “it was like death.”
Eventually he went back to football, but it wasn’t the same. His father would come and watch him play on a weekend. John Paul’s mate, Scott Whittle, who played in the same Argentinian team remembers Pablo’s devotion. “He was always loving and caring, always family-orientated and always put the kids first.”
“How was I going to tell him?”
Ritually, Pablo would come to watch and support his son’s football team, until one afternoon he didn’t show up. Because John Paul was overseas, Scott received a text message saying that something had happened to John Paul’s parents. With his young children in the car, Scott sped to the St Johns Park home to find police tape wrapped around the building and police cars piled into the narrow driveway. Scott took a deep breath and dropped his head, “I was in the car, I had to get out, leave my kids in the car, and burst into tears, I didn’t want my kids to see me like that. All I could think about is how am I going to tell him?”
A week after his family had been murdered, John Paul finally arrived home, still not knowing the extent of what had happened. He was confronted with the agony of having lost his mother, father and half-brother; Ralph. His eldest brother Carlos was restrained in hospital under heavy police guard. The only family that remained is his younger brother Hugo from whom he had been estranged for five years.
Carlos was tried in court for three counts of murder and two counts of animal cruelty. After pleading not guilty, the courts ruled in his favour, deeming the homicide an act of mental insanity.
“I forgive him”
John Paul traces his fingers over his arm as his eyes stare forward, in a world of his own. “It was a very difficult time for me emotionally, and it really challenged me, it challenges me today and it will challenge me for the rest of my life. It’s a battle that I live with every day.” The idea of living a normal life is now tainted with the feelings of loss as he comes to terms with the fact that there is no real reason as to why his parents were murdered. “The moment that drove him to do such a horrific act, is beyond me and society in general, they don’t know.” Mental insanity forces its victims to dance the fine line of logic, leaving behind unanswered questions. John Paul turned over his anxieties to the hands of God, because the situation was out of his hands, “there’s nothing that I can say or do that’s going to change anything.”
His half-brother, Carlos, now sits in a mental institution, under the watchful eye of Professor Greenwood, who at any moment could deem his treatment for mental insanity unnecessary, allowing him to re-join society. He would once again, roam the streets of Western Sydney, except now, with blood on his hands.
Having no contact with his half-brother in over four years, John Paul still wonders about that dreadful morning, and the decision that would forever take his family away. “They say life is about choices, and when you choose to do things and it can bring about heaven or hell, you’ll have to live with that…you’ll pay for that.” Finding solitude in the words of others, John Paul surrenders all chains of pain and anger and wishes nothing bad upon his brother. “I forgive him,’ he lifts his head, eyes locking with mine, ‘I forgive him, even though that’s the battle.”
Knowing that his parents would have wanted him to move on, John Paul is looking to the future where he pictures himself in Mexico, married to the woman who he had asked to marry before the incident changed his life. He hopes to one day have a family, and bring his children into a world of love and support, the same as his parents had done for him. “This is what drives me every day to keep going in life, and not become a depleted person that lives in sorrow and unhappiness. I also have the support of so many friends and family in the community that I’m forever indebted to.” John Paul now needs to reassemble the pieces and rebuild his world from the ground up.